Cue the Lights: A Few Thoughts on the Return of Smash

By Stefanie Lee on 2/08/2013

Well, Smash is back, for better or worse. I serve up that sentence with a heaping pile of reluctance only because, like many others, I fell into hate-watching the first season of the show pretty quickly last year. But before I rush to cynical judgement, I should say this: Tonight’s two-hour premiere was fun! And singy! And shouty! And flashy! And other adjectives that you might use to describe a show about Broadway.

The so-called “improvements” were very clear, namely that glorious voices like Jennifer Hudson’s and Jeremy Jordan’s were added to the roster. Hudson plays Veronica Moore, two-time Tony winner and The Hottest Thing On Broadway, and Jordan plays Danny, a Bartender Who Will Be The Hottest Thing On Broadway. Even clearer, improvement-wise, were the glorious absences of Ellis (Jaime Cepero) and Leo (Emory Cohen), evil assistant extraordinaire and wet blanket offspring, respectively.

But allow me to put all of these people into perspective and catch you up. Smash is about the production of a musical, called Bombshell, based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. When we last left off, small-town girl Karen Cartwright (Katherine McPhee) had overcome a season’s worth of overblown drama to beat out Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) for the title role. In tonight’s season two premiere, the claws were still out between these two. They seemed to have dropped the whole Ivy-slept-with-Karen’s-ex tension, but instead moved onto different, yet equally catty, behavior. The difference, though, is that Karen is now kind of a big deal and Ivy is no longer a big deal because she took drugs. Watching the once-powerful Ivy bow down to everyone is kind of a bummer, but knowing the tumultuous nature of the show, I have no doubt she’ll deliver something spectacular and ridiculous later on.

After a successful preview run of Bombshell in Boston, producer Eileen Rand (Anjelica Huston) gets the green-light to move the show to Broadway, only to have the whole thing come to a halt because, as it turns out, her investor/boyfriend’s money comes from a very sketchy (read: illegal) place. Also a bummer. But also, I have no doubt that Eileen will flip her geometric haircut around and pull something off without the help of her ex-husband Jerry (Michael Cristofer), who is somehow still there taking up space.

Speaking of ex-husbands, poor Julia (Debra Messing). Last season, she couldn’t get a break with all of those unflattering scarves, and her aforementioned wet blanket offspring, and her dumb decision to have an affair with a member of the cast. Thank goodness she has Tom (Christian Borle), her songwriting partner and my personal favorite character, to clean up the mess. I’m curious to see what happens to these two characters this season, particularly with the very collegiate plot point of them both, newly single, moving in together. Obviously there won’t be any romance, because both of ’em dig guys, but I wonder if they’ll get sick of each other and, you know, break up. Then again, Messing’s been down this road before. I’m also curious about Bombshell director Derek (Jack Davenport), since his character got a kitchen sink’s worth of plot points to tackle in the first two episodes. First he’s seducing Karen (again), then he’s seducing Ivy (again), then he’s seeing both of them seduce him in a (weak) drunken dream sequence, then he’s working? Oh, no. Not working. Just brooding. Yet, somehow, I think he’ll manage to find a job.

In case you haven’t picked up on this by now, Smash sets up a lot of easy conflicts just to spike them down with saucy climaxes and neat resolutions later. It’s all very high-stakes, and very easy to follow. And, even with all of this absurdity, it’s still very much worth watching because of that word I mentioned at the start of this post: fun! It’s a spectacle, y’all. The performers are truly talented; Hilty was actually on Broadway, and we all know about McPhee’s and Hudson’s humble American Idol beginnings. The songs are also super catchy. Gone are my days of watching Glee only for the cover songs – I’m all about Smash‘s originals (with a few recognizable classics thrown in every once in awhile). And, believe it or not, even though the show is about a group of narcissistic actors and entertainment-industry folks, they’ve all got something in them that makes you want to root for them. Who knows how true-to-life this show actually depicts New York theater, but who cares? The drama is delightful, and really, it’s all worth it just to hear any one of those three ladies belt something out. I’m not hate-watching Smash anymore. I’m just watching.

Except … I might not be for much longer. That first part, right up there, I wrote immediately after the episodes aired. Turns out I was one of about three people who watched last night. The ratings came in, and they were beyond dismal. I have to say I’m a bit surprised – the show is campy, sure, but it’s not terrible. It’s just niche, catching the eyes of people who watch Nashville (like me) and Glee (like me last year, before I gave up). Then again, we live in a world that continued to watch Two and a Half Men even after Charlie Sheen had a public breakdown and left the show. The future of Smash doesn’t look particularly bright or smashing or, you know, insert other smash-related play on words here. I’m sad, honestly, because this show captures that certain special thing that is a little lost on television now: the true escape of entertainment, the dazzle, the sparkle, all of that. Or at least it tries to. Maybe I suspend my disbelief more than most people. In any case, I hope the end isn’t extremely soon, because I want to know what becomes of this pretentious lot of talented people. Join me, won’t you?  Δ

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